Spain – an immigration exemplar
Spain has quietly transformed itself into a major migrant destination and is reaping economic benefits from its innovative and inclusive immigration policies.
This is the scenario described in a new report from the Migration Policy Institute which found that Spain has rapidly transitioned to become one of Europe’s major immigration destinations in just a few years.
“The country’s immigration policies are now remarkably inclusive, not only by historical standards but also compared to peer nations,” the report says.
“Stunningly, this evolution occurred with minimal political backlash, even as the country suffered through a crippling economic and labour crisis. This comprehensive article explains the novel policies that led to this turnaround and provides data on Spain’s current immigrant population,” it says.
Spain now has a larger foreign-born share of the population than the United Kingdom, the United States and other major destination countries.
The report says Spain was once seen as the destination of large numbers of irregular migrants but new and innovative polices have change this.
“Spain’s immigration policies are now remarkably inclusive, not only by historical standards but also compared to peer nations. Although these policies do not guarantee immigrants will quickly acquire natives’ living standards, Spain provides the vast majority of its 7.5 million foreign-born residents’ access to extensive civic and social rights, including a path to citizenship,” it says.
“These policies, which are better attuned to the country’s labour market demands and the aspirations of immigrants, have largely escaped political backlash, due in part to regulations allowing unauthorised immigrants the opportunity to secure legal residence so long as they prove an employment history or social integration.
“This approach was forged in the early 2000s amidst a rapid increase in Spain’s foreign-born population and survived a subsequent economic crisis during which the unemployment rate hit 27 per cent.”
But the report says high migration remains a potential political risk for the government, demonstrated by the recent successes of the radical-right VOX party, which has embraced nationalistic rhetoric.
However, the report says that Spain has gone from “laggard to leader” on immigration reform.
“Accounting for nearly 16 per cent of its population, Spain has one of Europe’s highest shares of foreign-born residents. Far exceeding the EU average (12 per cent) and the proportion of immigrants living in other Southern European countries such as Italy (10 per cent), Spain’s share is in the ballpark of those of Germany (18 per cent) or the Netherlands (14 per cent), which have received sizable immigration flows for much longer periods of time.
In recent years Spain’s overall population has experienced astonishing growth of 19 percent growth.
“Between 1998 and 2022 the population rose from 40 million to 47.5 million, due almost entirely to international immigration,” the report said.
“In this context, the composition of the immigrant population has changed significantly. While the proportion of people from Africa remained rather stable, the shares of Latin Americans and Asians have nearly doubled, whereas Europeans now account for a much smaller share than 25 years ago.
“Presently, about 43 per cent of Spain’s foreign-born residents come from Central or South America, 30 per cent from other European countries (mostly those in the European Union), 18 per cent from (mostly North) Africa, and 7 per cent from Asia.
Part of Spain’s success in forming immigration policy has been a Cautious inclusive approach, the report says.
“Cautious not to provoke nativist backlash, the Spanish government has done little to publicize its achievements incorporating immigrants, which continued even during the economic crisis,” it said.
“Since 2005, when the last large-scale regularisation effort drew criticism from within Spain and abroad, the government has sought to avoid attracting attention to its immigration management.
“Crises made that occasionally impossible, such as during surging arrivals at the Canaries or massive border fence transgressions at Spain’s African exclaves, but even then, the government strived to scrub the issue from the headlines as quickly as possible.
“Since 2000, there has been no broad public debate of immigration legislation, and path-breaking initiatives such as the 2013 naturalisation drive were implemented with little fanfare.
“This approach helped blunt immigration as a political wedge issue for several years; unlike in many other Western countries, the topic is only rarely listed by Spaniards as a main problem facing the country.
However, this silence risked creating a vacuum to be filled by nativist rhetoric, which came to fruition in 2018 when VOX erupted into Spain’s political system as the first radical-right party since the Franco regime’s demise.
VOX’s initial success was due primarily to backlash against Catalan separatism, yet the party’s fiercely nationalist platform includes aggressive rhetoric especially toward Muslim immigrants.
But public surveys suggest that VOX as not fundamentally changed the attitudes of Spaniards towards immigration.
The share of people saying immigration made Spain a worse place to live has shrunk in recent years, and opinion polling shows less animosity toward immigrants in Spain even than in countries with more resilient labour markets and stronger welfare states, such as Germany and Sweden, the report says.
Read the full report: Article: A Pragmatic Bet: The Evolution of Spain�.. | migrationpolicy.org